“Must find place to avoid pop culture discussions . . .”
Marge and Homer Simpson’s couple’s conflicts transcend time. At least they transcend the changing pop cultural landscape of the last 30 years. The Simpsons’ marriage—after the show settled on the couple’s dynamic after the long-ago first season—has been the template for TV marriages beset by the challenges and temptations of the intruding outside world. And if the temptations have changed, the core of the series’ central relationship have withstood every permutation—even, as “I’m Dancing As Fat As I Can” suggests, the lure of on-demand streaming.
(As far as product integration grumbles go, I’ll just say that all the Netflix propaganda throughout the episode is just something to wave away like an unpleasant odor. Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos’ presence throughout the episode is at least worked into the joke that Homer—eventually succumbing to the irresistible lure of watching season two of 1980s-set horror series Odder Things—can’t figure out why he’s having dreams and visions of someone he’s never heard of before in his life. And, sure, Netflix is never going to get its claws on The Simpsons, but it does carry Matt Groening’s most recent foray into animated comedy and, well, that’s just the way it goes.)
Forgetting that, “I’m Dancing As Fat As I Can” works refreshingly well otherwise, as long as the episode sticks to the story it’s designed to tell. (The B-plot, about Bart and Milhouse fighting it out for a chance to win a greedy, Supermarket Sweep-style shopping spree at a Krusty store, sits lumpenly to the side.) The episode is written by Simpsons first-timer Jane Becker, who’s got some Rick And Morty under her belt, and who exhibits a promising understanding of what makes a Marge and Homer story tick, something that’s a lot trickier than it looks.
Sure, Homer is a bad husband—until he’s not. And Marge is the forbearing, clucking wife—until she isn’t. Their dynamic can veer too far in either direction, with either Homer or Marge’s blind spots and marital weaknesses tipping an episode into unpalatable broadness. But a good Homer and Marge episode (which this is) understands that the Simpsons’ marriage is the comic arena where the idea of the TV sitcom marriage is tested, satirized, and reset. A good Homer-Marge fight stretches the bounds of what’s acceptable—even in a broadly comic setting—without puncturing the membrane of essential humanity that makes us care about these two, even after 30 years of shenanigans.
And the episode does stretch that relationship, to an uncommonly realistic degree. It’s a bit au courant to have the central conflict be over Netflix binge-watching, but Becker’s script, and Julie Kavner’s performance, strike feelingly at the real heart of the matter. When Marge—off to attend a dying aunt, in a C-plot that’s just abandoned—pleads with Homer not to watch Odder Things without her, she tells him the couch-cuddling tradition “is our thing—and we don’t have a lot of things.” Homer, admirably, tries to honor Marge’s wishes before, less honorably, caving in, leaving Marge icily furious upon her return. So, as Marge chillingly puts it—when she commands that Homer not take his customary doghouse post on the sofa but orders him to sleep next to her in their bed—he can “feel the bitter rays of ice coming from my frozen soul.” Yikes.
Is Marge overreacting? Sure. But she’s also allowing us one of the customary glimpses beneath the veneer of self-delusion and compromise that carry her through a life built on disappointment. Marge Bouvier was going places, got knocked up by the class dodo, and, as much as she truly loves said dodo, her life has meant making the best of things. All she asks from Homer is to meet her—well, not even halfway, but just one step outside of his rut of sloth, laziness, and self-interest. When he fails even at that, Marge snaps, and her simple pronouncement upon learning of Homer’s failure here partakes of marriage-endangering simplicity: “I finally learn how little I mean to you.”
Naturally, Homer will make it right. Or as right as Homer can make anything. He—after the specter of Ted Sarandos finks to him about Marge’s love of ubiquitously streaming dancing shows—secretly learns how to dance. There’s a poignancy to the Marge-Homer dynamic, in that they—by virtue of the show’s recently reaffirmed longevity—can never truly break free of it. Homer will screw up, Marge will be hurt, Homer will make a grand, if ill-thought-out, gesture that convinces Marge to believe in him again. (It can go the other way, but I think Homer’s in the hole by about a 30-1 margin or so.) When that dynamic isn’t respected, the couple’s inevitable rapprochement comes across like a disservice to the characters (and/or perfunctory plotting). But when, as here, it shows Homer actually making an effort, their coming-together is, still, powerfully sweet.
Too sweet? Maybe. Here, Lisa’s tearful proclamation at the sight of her parents’ swooning reunion (to Dave Matthews’ “That Girl Is You”) on the dance floor (“I’ve never seen this, mom and dad romantically in love. It’s like rebirth. It cures all the wounds!”) edges right up to too much. But screw it—it is romantic, and it is sweet, and there’s still room in The Simpsons for Marge and Homer Simpson to find their way through to a little hard-earned happiness.
- Homer’s dance lessons are given some room to breathe, comedically. I like how his teacher never quits on him, even after he innocently but inevitably pulls down a pair of full-length mirrors while trying to get his groove on.
- Some of That Jazz is a funny name for a beginners dance studio.
- Homer admits that sometimes he forgets their “marriage birthday,” as well as Marge’s “birth anniversary.”
- Along those lines, Homer cries out upon being busted by Marge, “Uh-oh, the lady from my marriage!”
- Marge’s other streaming genre of choice is Scandinavian murder mysteries, including one called, exquisitely, Bøøben.
- Lenny reveals that he tried to give his Odder Things fan fiction to Stephen King by tossing it over the Maine horror icon’s (and Stranger Things spiritual forebear’s) fence. Asking why Stephen King, Homer is told, in, again, exquisitely silly Lenny logic, “He’s got a low fence.”
- Krusty blames his lousy ratings on “Downloading, and the streaming, and the fact that everything else is better!”
- Sarandos urges Homer to stay watching for the new Chris Rock special, warning, “Don’t watch that with your wife, either.”
- Rev. Lovejoy, counseling Homer: “What is your sin—apart from thinking our church has confession?”
- “Marge, all you have to do is one incredibly difficult thing—trust me.”